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Game Preview: Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, or Use Beer and Money to Lure Nobles into Your Bar

W. Eric Martin
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It would be time-intensive to carry out this challenge, but at a future convention, I'd like to see someone set up a gauntlet of mystery games, then invite people to play these games and guess the designers.

To do this challenge properly, you'd have to choose somewhat obscure games from famous designers, not to mention making your own versions of these games with handmade components or public domain art so that someone couldn't recognize a title they've seen in passing; alternatively, you could liberate prototype games from the designers' homes so that no one would play something they've possibly played before. Conducting this challenge might take hours, given the number of games on hand and their playing time, but I'd be curious to discover whether game fans could find a Pfister or recognize a Rosenberg in a crowded field.

This thought experiment came to mind after playing Wolfgang Warsch's Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, a big box game for 2-4 players that German publisher Schmidt Spiele released in March 2019, and finding it similar in spirit to Warsch's 2018 The Quacks of Quedlinburg (and more distantly his games The Mind, Illusion, Brikks, and Ganz schön clever/Doppelt so clever), despite not sharing any game mechanisms with those designs.

When playing any of these Warsch designs, you'll experience huge highs and lows driven by large doses of luck, whether it's rolling exactly the dice you need in Brikks or GSC/DSC, flopping sequential cards in just the right order in The Mind, pulling all the right tokens from your ingredient bag in Quacks, or filling your tavern with the perfect combination of cards in Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, which translates as "The Taverns of the Deep Valley" and which will be released in English in Q4 2019 by North Star Games.




In the game, each player has their own tavern, which includes three tables, small storage areas for money and beer, a barrel of your custom house brew, a cashbox, a monk at the bar, and a beer supplier outside your door. You each have a deck of cards that consists of seven regular customers, a waitress, an extra table, and another beer supplier.

At the start of a round, you receive a bonus associated with that round — a treasured guest, your choice of a dish washer or a waitress, etc. — then you each flip over cards from your deck until all the tables of your tavern are full. The guests, sad and introspective, all want to sit on their own, so you might flip only three cards and be done; alternatively you might reveal and place all the cards in your deck other than guests, then finally fill the tables afterward. Mostly you'll fall between these extremes, just you do in Quacks when drawing ingredients from your personal bag.

After each player fills their tables, you each roll four white dice, place them on a serving platter in front of you, take turns drafting one die from your platter, then pass the platters to the left before you each draft another die, and so on until you've drafted four dice to accompany any additional colored dice brought to you by the waitresses. You use these dice to serve beer to guests (which requires placing a 1 or 2 for your deck's initial guests), get beer from beer suppliers (placing a 1 or 6), get advice from the monk (placing a 5), or dipping into your cashbox or drawing a beer from your house supply (placing any one die for each).

By drawing beer or getting beer from passing merchants and suppliers, you can attract new guests to your tavern, whether one of the slightly better guests from a fixed stack or one of four random guests in a drafting line. These guests have beer costs from 3-8, and you can acquire at most one guest a round — but any guest you do get is placed on top of your deck, which means they will visit your tavern next turn. Be ready for them!


For mint lemonade, you must come to my house instead of a tavern


By serving guests or dipping into the cashbox, you get doubloons, with which you can improve your tavern — whether by hiring beer merchants or dish washers, acquiring another table, or upgrading your tavern permanently. Most of these improvements are on cards that (like guests) you'll place on top of your deck so that you can first use them in the next round.

Permanent upgrades are what you're aiming for in the long term as they are not cards that you'll use once, then place in your discard pile, not knowing when you'll see them again. You can add an extra table, which means you'll seat one more guest, which means you'll likely place even more cards in your tavern and therefore do more stuff overall. You can upgrade the beer supplier so that you receive two beer for each die you place instead of only one or you can enlarge your safe so that you can store up to five doubloons from one round to the next instead of only two (and you want to store doubloons so that you can purchase other upgrades more easily).

What's equally important to improving your tavern for future rounds is that each upgrade attracts a noble in town, with you placing that noble card on top of your deck. I'm not sure why a noble would care that you hired a dish washer permanently instead of having only temp help, or that you have a larger cashbox that will allow you take three doubloons from it instead of only one, but we'll assume they're all simple-minded and move on.
Most cards that you add to your deck are worth 1-4 points, but a noble is worth 10 points, so you want to attract as many of them as possible. Nobles function as guests, so you can serve them beer in the future and make money from them, but mostly you care about them only for points — and as in Quacks, you can have giant turns in Tavernen in which you upgrade three things at once and add three nobles (and 30 points) to your deck or in which you serve twenty beers, with you being able to attract 1-3 nobles directly with 9-18 beer. As I said, simple-minded.


Using the first two expansions


At other times, your turn might be largely a bust. You place only a few guests, pull only one beer merchant (who supplies only a single beer and can take no dice), and...nothing else. You have a 4 guest and 5 guest who would place lots of coins in hand if you could supply them beer — but no 4s and 5s are rolled that round (and you lack the dish washers needed to increase the number on a die). Again, this sensation mirrors Quacks as in that game sometimes you draw all the wrong ingredient tokens and bust for the round, which sets you back against everyone else who is landing both points and money instead of only one of those.

You can mitigate bad luck in a few ways — having the aforementioned dish washers; using one of the three treasured guests you receive to clear your tavern and start placing cards anew — but you can't eliminate bad luck completely, and you won't necessarily know when to use a guest until you've played the game through and see what can happen when over the course of its eight rounds. You want to buy additions to your tavern each round and attract a new guest each round so that all of your growth compounds over time, but you can't be sure that any of your many, many decisions will be correct until things play out in the future, and maybe the luck of the dice does you in anyway, even though your choices seem ideal.

To live out the game's high highs — in this case the thrill of putting together a huge turn — you need to risk having low lows as well, just as sometimes you lose lives repeatedly in The Mind by sequential card plays not going your way or you fail in Illusion by cards being only one percentage point off. This high luck/high thrill combination seems evident across Warsch's designs, and ideally you as a player experience enough of those unpredictable highs that you can shrug off the lows and still feel like playing again.

I've played Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal four times on a review copy from Schmidt Spiele: twice with the base game, once with the first expansion, and once with the first two expansions. The game comes with four expansions in all — called "modules 2-5", with the base game being "module 1" for some reason — and you must use all earlier expansions when adding one to play.

These expansions add new twists to gameplay, with the first expansion adding schnapps to your menu and giving you new guests in the first five rounds that you can use each in one of two ways by serving them schnapps. The second expansion lets you earn reputation points based on the lower amount of the beer or money you earn in a round, with reputation earning you schnapps and nobles; bards become another tavern improvement option, with their performances increasing your reputation. The third expansion gives you variable starting decks, and the fourth expansion gives each player a signature book that newly arriving guests "sign", which gives you a variety of bonuses.

All of these expansions add rules and fiddliness to the game, and the base game already has a dense twelve-page rulebook, which can be a lot to absorb, despite the gameplay itself being simple. Tavernen is an ideal game to learn by playing, preferably from someone who already knows the game so that you can skip the long rule descriptions and get right into the game, but of course that won't be possible for most people. Perhaps my video overview, which goes into more detail than what I described above, will be enough to kickstart your game-playing experience...


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